Shoplifters (2018)

"This Palme d’Or-winning drama about a Japanese family of crooks who lift a lost little girl from the streets is a satisfying and devastating gem"
Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Palme d’Or-winning “Shoplifters” opens with a perfectly calibrated scene that sets the table for what’s to come. A man and a boy are in a store. They keep making eye contact, moving slowly through the aisles. They clearly have a level of non-verbal communication that feels like a ritual. They’ve done this before. They will do this again. And doing this brings them somewhat closer to each other, even if it’s illegal. Of course, what they’re doing is shoplifting, but we instantly get the feeling that they’re doing it to survive. They’re getting food for their family, not taking trinkets from a fancy store.

On the way home that night, just after commenting on how it's too cold to go back and get some forgotten shampoo, the man and boy see a girl on a balcony. We get the impression they’ve seen her before. Despite their obvious need, the man offers the girl a croquette, and she ends up coming home with them. We learn that the man is named Osamu (Lily Franky) and the boy is named Shota (Jyo Kairi). At home, there are other mouths to feed. We meet the mother named Nobuyo (Ando Sakura), another woman named Aki (Matsuoka Mayu) and a grandmother (Kiki Kilin). And now there’s a new mouth with a girl named Juri. When Osamu and Nobuyo go to take the girl back that night, they hear a violent scuffle between parents who likely haven’t even noticed their daughter is gone. Nobuyo just holds Juri a little tighter and we know they’re not giving her back.

Nobuyo and Osamu justify their action by saying it’s not a kidnapping if you don’t ask for a ransom. It’s similar logic to how Osamu justifies stealing to Shota—telling him it’s OK if it’s not someone else’s property and items in a store don’t belong to anyone yet. It’s OK as long as the store doesn’t go bankrupt.
And then Kore-eda drops the floor out from under the Shibatas, revealing there are a lot of things we don’t know about this makeshift family. The final half-hour of “Shoplifters” is some of the most emotional, powerful filmmaking of the year, and it’s thanks to how delicately Kore-eda has drawn these characters over the 90 preceding minutes.

Kore-eda’s great subject is the contemporary family, a topic that gives him an immensity of themes, including loss, love, class, alienation in the modern world and just about everything else. (In “Air Doll,” about a man and his sex doll, it’s still a family affair.) He’s especially interested in — and brilliant at directing — children, whose vulnerabilities recurrently become the fulcrum of his stories.

The family in “Shoplifters” returns Kore-eda to the marginalized world of one of his best movies, Nobody Knows,” about young children abandoned by their mother. 
Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters is a complex, subtle, mysterious film that builds to the most extraordinary surprise ending, a twist-reveal worthy of psychological suspense noir. Yet the film is nothing like that generically. In fact, it is another of the intricate and nuanced family dramas in the classical Japanese style, of which Kore-eda has made himself a modern master. Its significant plot shifts happen unobtrusively, almost invisibly, except for those big, heart-wrenching revelations in its final section.

    1. Initial release: June 8, 2018 (Japan)
      Director: Hirokazu Koreeda
      Japanese: 万引き家族
      Language: Japanese

The Films of Hirokazu Koreeda

Hirokazu Koreeda’s Nobody Knows (Dare mo shiranai, 2004) is a fictionalisation of an infamous incident from 1988, whereby a mother left her four children – all born to different fathers and, with the possible exception of the eldest son, not registered at birth – to fend for themselves in a Tokyo apartment. Koreeda wrote a draft screenplay when the case was unfolding and sat on it for 15 years. The resulting film sits at the intersection between his early documentaries and documentary-inflected fictions, and the later, gentle family dramas which positioned him as heir to Yasujirō Ozu’s legacy. It also cemented Koreeda’s status as one of Japan’s greatest living filmmakers.  >>>

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